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Masques et Bergamasques, op. 112 (1919)
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)

Fauré’s musical talent was recognized when he was very young; his father, a member of the minor aristocracy and director of a teacher’s college, agreed to send him to the École Niedermeyer in Paris when Gabriel was nine. Upon graduating eleven years later in 1865, Fauré embarked on a career as an organist, teacher, director, and composer, achieving rather mediocre success until his appointment as professor of composition at the Conservatoire of Paris in 1896. As professor, and later director, of the Conservatoire, his students included Maurice Ravel, Nadia Boulanger and George Enescu, and, though he had less time to compose due to his teaching and administrative duties, his music became well-known and commonly performed in France, as well as in England, Germany, Spain and Russia. Though his life was not without personal and public scandal and misfortune—including numerous extramarital affairs, poor health, and deafness—Fauré became one of the most respected composers in France in his last decades.

The suite Masques et Bergamesques is one of Fauré’s final orchestral compositions. It was composed and premiered in 1919 at the request of Prince Albert of I of Monaco, who wanted a “choreographic divertissement” for the theater of Monte Carlo—in other words, a short, one-act production featuring dancing, singing, and music by Fauré. Perhaps because of his ill health and administrative duties at the Conservatoire, Fauré re-used several older compositions for the Masques et Bergamesques. Originally eight movements, Fauré extracted four movements to form an orchestral suite which was published in 1919; three of the four movements of the suite are from an abandoned 1869 symphony, while the fourth, the Pastorale, was the only wholly new movement.

The first movement, “Ouverture,” is from the 1869 symphony, and offers a light melody first with the strings before the entire ensemble joins; the short movement is in a brief sonata form, with only a slight hint of development. The second movement, “Menuet,” is also from the 1869 symphony, though extensively revised. The stately triple meter indicates a courtly dance, and a witty trio section in the middle plays with timing between string and wind entrances. The third movement, “Gavotte,” is another dance from the 1869 symphony; the music is in a fast two and flows in easy eight-bar phrases, while a slower middle section offers slowed-down music with brief wind interruptions of the primary theme. The final movement, “Pastorale,” is the only newly-composed music of the suite. In an ABA form, the primary material features a melody accenting beats 2 and 5 of the measure and introduces the harp into the orchestral texture. Toward the end, the opening melody from “Ouverture” is heard as a countermelody in the winds in between phrases of the “Pastorale” melody—what one writer called Fauré’s “farewell to the orchestra.”

- Harrison Russin, Duke University Music Department